Does Physician Weight Affect Perception of Health Advice?

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Preventive Medicine




Background: Obesity is considered a growing health threat in the United States. Although physicians have an important role in counseling their patients for obesity prevention and treatment, physicians themselves are often overweight. There are few data regarding how physician body weight might affect patient receptiveness to obesity counseling.

Methods: A 43-item survey instrument was developed that consisted of three scales related to physician characteristics, health locus of control, and perceptions on receiving health advice from overweight physicians. The survey was administered to 226 patients in five physician offices. Two of the physicians were classified as obese using BMI calculations, and three were nonobese. The responses from the surveys were grouped into those from obese and nonobese physicians.

Results: Significant differences were found for patient receptiveness to counseling for treatment of illness (P = 0.038) and health advice (P = 0.049), with the patients of nonobese physicians indicating greater confidence scores. The difference for weight and fitness counseling did not reach significance (P = 0.075). Analysis revealed that patient BMI was not a significant covariate nor were items related to physician characteristics in general or health locus of control.

Conclusions: Patients seeking care from nonobese physicians indicated greater confidence in general health counseling and treatment of illness than patients seeing obese physicians. It is not known if this can be translated into increased success in obesity prevention and treatment.